The Buccaneers were bounced from the playoffs one game short of the Final Four last season.
In head coach Joe Giddens' first season at the helm, Mainland’s boys basketball team came up a few possessions short of advancing to its first Final Four in nearly 20 years during the 2017-18 season. Forward Johnny Brown scored 20 points in the Class 7A-Region 2 Final, but two charging fouls doomed the Buccaneers in a 53-49 loss to Tampa Hillsborough on March 2.
“We had guys crying in the locker room after that game,” said Giddens, who led the Buccaneers to a 21-8 overall record. “It hurt.”
With Mainland on the up-and-up, however, Giddens said he suspects Year 2 to be quite different than last season’s surprise.
“We know know we can’t sneak up on anybody anymore,” he said. “We have to come ready to play every night.”
Mainland played two preseason games on Monday, Nov. 19, and Tuesday, Nov. 20, at Mainland High School. The Buccaneers beat Trinity Catholic, a Class 5A Final Four team, 61-52 on Monday night, but lost to Campbell, a Georgia playoff team, 61-58 on Tuesday night.
Against Campbell, the Buccaneers were led by senior guard Rodney Rhoden, who recorded a double-double with 20 points and 11 boards.
Guard Jordan Sears, who transferred from rival powerhouse Atlantic late last school year, scored 17 points and dished out 2 assists against the Spartans. He had an open shot to tie the game at the buzzer, but his 3-pointer clanged off the front of the rim.
Sears and fellow transfer Justin Hill, who averaged 21 points per game as a starter at Deltona, figure to play significant roles for the Buccaneers this season — Sears as a starting point guard and Hill as a spark off the bench.
“We know we want to make it to states. I have to come in and do my job to be the point guard of this team. No more going backward, only forward.”
Mainland guard Jordan Sears
“Jordan adds a big piece to our team with his scoring ability,” said Brown, who scored 8 points, grabbed 4 rebounds and blocked 1 shot against the Spartans. “And Justin, he made a big sacrifice to come here and play off the bench. We just need to get our chemistry up.”
But despite the quality of Mainland’s newest additions, Giddens and the Buccaneers will continue to rely on their perennial starters — Brown, Rhoden and guard Taron Keith — who had the Buccaneers a breath away from postseason glory a season ago.
“This was like a playoff atmosphere,” Giddens said of preseason. “I wanted to schedule teams that were going to challenge my guys. I wanted them to have adversity early. This is a marathon not a sprint. We want to be tested.”